The Mayor and His Map

The next time you see Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, ask him about his map. It’s the Mayor’s latest weapon in his battle to stop the state from eliminating residency requirements for municipal employees in Wisconsin. More than 120 municipalities have rules spelling out where their employees can live. But Governor Walker wants to change that. He says residency requirements are unnecessary and outdated, even counter-productive, and he has included language in his state budget that would end them.

Mayor Barrett says the Governor’s proposal doesn’t belong in the budget, since it’s not a fiscal item. But Barrett’s concerns go much deeper. In a recent e-mail to supporters, Barrett said an end to the city’s 75-year-old residency requirement could “destabilize” Milwaukee. I pressed the Mayor on that claim in a recent television interview. He said philosophically he agrees with the notion that people should be able to live where they want, but that local municipalities should be able to determine the conditions of employment for the people they hire. In Barrett’s world, that translates into a simple reality. If you don’t want to live in Milwaukee, don’t apply for a job with the city. He said there’s been no shortage of applicants.

Perhaps more important, Barrett said the value of assessed property in Milwaukee had fallen five billion dollars because of the economic downturn. He argued that based on experiences in other cities, such as Detroit, Minneapolis, Baltimore, and Cleveland, significant numbers of city employees were likely to leave the city should the residency requirement be lifted. Barrett was making the case that there was great risk to his city, and he wanted to show me a map he carried with him into the television studio. You can see it here. Because of the amount of data in the file, it takes about 10-15 seconds to present itself.

The map shows the gravity of Milwaukee’s foreclosure crisis. Foreclosed properties are in red. As of last week, there were nearly 2600. Blue represents where the more than 7,000 city employees live. Besides helping stabilize struggling sections of Milwaukee, city employees are the backbone of a number of healthy, middle-class neighborhoods, including Bay View and the southwest, far south, and far west sides. These neighborhoods are home to hundreds of police officers and firefighters. But what happens if, as the Mayor believes, 40 to 50 per cent of those blue dots—city employees—move outside the city? Will there be a dramatic downward pressure on property values?

The Mayor contends the end of residency was a promise Governor Walker made to the Milwaukee police and firefighters unions in an effort to gain their support during his bid for Governor. Walker argues that personal freedom should trump conditions of employment, and that at the end of the day, it’s up to the city to become a more attractive place to live. Neither man knows exactly what will happen should the requirement be eliminated. Nor do they know what Mayor Barrett’s map will look like 10 years from now. But if Barrett is right, it will be a lot less blue, and Milwaukee could be a very different city.


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Metro Milwaukee Is Doing Better Than a Lot of Residents Think

A couple of years ago, I was talking with one of the boosters of the effort to brand the Milwaukee area as a global water technology hub. He told me the biggest challenge the initiative would face would be Milwaukee’s inferiority complex, or at least our unwillingness to brag about our assets.

I was reminded of that conversation recently, when the Law School collaborated with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on two major projects. On April 8, we hosted a conference in Eckstein Hall exploring the pros and cons of building a new downtown sports and entertainment facility. Those in attendance heard the president of the Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce describe how his city had been dramatically transformed by a series of projects that had broad community support. Then, this past Sunday, the newspaper published the first in a four-part series examining the economic future of metropolitan Milwaukee. Called “A Time to Build,” the series was reported by Rick Romell of the Journal Sentinel, under a six-month Law School fellowship established by the Sheldon B. Lubar Fund for Public Policy Research.

As part of that current series on the metro area’s economic prospects, the newspaper created an interactive graphic that allows the reader to compare the nation’s top 50 metropolitan areas. It’s easy to use, and educational, too.

After hearing so much about the Oklahoma City success story, I thought it might be interesting to see how metro Milwaukee stacks up against Oklahoma City in several key categories. It turns out, we do pretty well. We have more college graduates, higher per capita income, and a slightly lower poverty rate. I then added the metropolitan Dallas area to the mix, given Dallas’ reputation as one of the stars of the Sunbelt. Again, the comparison was favorable. Milwaukee and Dallas had remarkably similar numbers in several key indices. The comparative data are available here.

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Is Governance Reform in the Future for Milwaukee Public Schools?

There is growing consensus that the Milwaukee Public Schools are at a critical moment in their history.  Faced with daunting fiscal challenges last year, some school board members talked openly about dissolving the district, only to later amend their comments.  It was a symbolic protest, they said, an attempt to draw attention to the district’s dismal financial outlook.  But the horse was out of the barn. The board’s “dissolution discussion” opened the door to new debate about MPS’s future.  An independent review of the district’s fiscal situation, paid for by local foundations, was commissioned and should be made public soon.  Once that happens, Governor Doyle is expected to weigh in on the district’s future course.  What that path will be is still uncertain, but last week, we had a fascinating discussion here at the Law School about the possibility of changing the way MPS is governed.

The event was co-sponsored by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, and came on the heels of a study that examined five other districts that had changed their governance.  The study was funded by the GMF and conducted by the Public Policy Forum.  We’ve posted a transcript of the event, which featured MPS Superintendent Bill Andrekopoulos, former Superintendent and Distinguished Professor of Education at Marquette University Howard Fuller, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce President Tim Sheehy, Milwaukee School Board Director Jennifer Morales, State Representative Polly Williams, Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association President Dennis Oulahan, and Milwaukee Common Council President Willie Hines.

You can always listen to the webcast of our event, but the evening had a revealing dynamic to it that makes for equally interesting reading.

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